Living with mental illness
Life started to change when I was in my early twenties. I had lost most of my grandparents and needed to fly quite a bit. I have never been a good flier and so I chalked my emotional breakdowns to me flying and moodiness from being in my 20’s.
I needed to take a flight from Chicago to a small airport in Michigan, flying in a 20-seater plane. I really talked myself out of it, so my brother suggested that I go to the doctor and get some Valium for the flight. He said it would help me relax and he would be able to get through the flight too.
I made my appointment, and become anxious about seeing the doctor. I waited the days out and grew more and nervous. When it was finally time to doctor, I had gotten myself so worked up that I felt like I was going to throw up all over the waiting room. I knew that I wasn’t having major surgery, or a body part removed. I had read up about what it was like to talk to the doctor about the fear of flying and everything said it was a simple and quick appointment. I knew all that, so why was my arm pits sweating profusely and my brow was wetter than most people’s waiting for their death in the firing line? Was this normal to be reacting to just talking to the doctor? Or was there something wrong with me, maybe a health issue I thought about. Maybe I was dying but just hadn’t had someone in the field of medicine tell me those short words of “Lisa, you are dying”.
I was so into thinking the worse, that I hadn’t heard the nurse call my name that it was time to be seen. I froze. Frozen in my spot because I was terrified from the top of my head to the very last toe. I couldn’t move and knew that everyone was looking at me now and wondering why I was so afraid to go talk to the doctor.
Maybe it was the look on my face or the fact that I stopped breathing, that the nurse was standing next to me in 2 seconds flat. To this day, I remember her exact words to me. ‘Lisa, I promise you that this will be the easiest appointment for you and you will walk out of here feeling a lot better”.
I don’t know if it was the way she said it or the tone of her voice, but my body started to move and follow her in the direction of the back rooms that to me now look like doors leading to hell. Yes, hell, the hell. She took me to a back room, number 9 was the number of this room and asked me to have a seat on the bed. “What brings you in to see Dr. Sundue (pronounced like the day of the week, Sunday). I wanted to speak but instead, tears welled up and I began to cry. I managed to get out “I would like to fly”. The nurse looked very confused. She said, “fly, like a bird”. I nodded yes at first, then began to clear my head a little, I realized I sounded crazy and I was sure she had no idea of what I was trying to say. I took a deep breath, and said: “no, I can’t fly on a plane without freaking out like I am a doing right now.” The nurse laughed a little at me, almost in a sign of relief and she said: “Oh, you mean you have a fear of flying and need to fly”. Yes, exactly what I had been trying to say now for the last 10 minutes. She wrote some things on my chart, got up, patted my knee and said ‘Dr. Sundue will be in shortly”. All with a big smile on her face. One that made me want to hit her and tell her this wasn’t funny. But off she ran to torture the next patient.
Then the time began to sit still for what seemed like hours but was only 7 minutes. I could hear the second-hand on the clock tick like someone turned up the volume too high and the ticking noise was a loud tick, tick, tick.
Finally, in walked Dr. Sundue. He was in high spirits and I had been seeing this doctor for about 4 years. He had seen me at my worst and fixed me up to look my best. I thought for sure that I could tell him anything and that was my plan to do. “What can I do for you today, Lisa,” he said calmly. “It says her that you are having trouble flying and you were having a panic attack in the waiting room.
“Wait, what? A panic attack? I just was scared to talk to you about my inability to fly. I was fine in the waiting room. Your nurse had it all wrong” I said.
The doctor looked at me and said “was in any ways that you feel about flying the same ways you felt in the waiting room today. I stopped to think. I did feel a little off in the waiting room. But that was all because I was thinking about flying. It had nothing to do with seeing a doctor about a panic attack. But the more Dr. Sundue talked, the more I began to become anxious again even though I didn’t know that was how I was feeling.
That was the first time in my life that I knew that I was having anxiety attacks. And the more that Dr. Sundue and I was talking about my emotions, did I become aware that I was also suffering from bouts of depression too. I had always thought that I had my life under control. And the worse thing was, I couldn’t fly without the help of medicine.
Once I started to take medication for my depression and medicine for the anxiety, I start to see thing clearer and realize that I needed help from a doctor and with medicine.
It has now been over 20 years since I have had to see doctors about my depression and anxiety. For the most part, the anxiety is under control, it’s the depression that I need to work on, daily basis. I take two different kinds of medications to keep my calm and focus.
If it wasn’t for that nurse and stating that I was having a panic attack that day in the doctor’s office, I may not have had mine diagnosed so easily. I was lucky. There are many of people out there that are trying to find the words to explain what their life is like. She saw how I was living and knew that there was more going on than me just wanting to fly.
If you are having problems with things like flying or just living a good life, it’s time to see the doctor and get help for the things you can’t talk about. Depression and anxiety are hard things to talk about with doctors, nurses, friends, and family members but once you do, I promise you will feel a lot better. Once you get the help you need, your life will become a lot better.